Isabella COULTER
Father James COULTER b.c. 1835 m. (1) bef. 1859 d. aft. 18761
Step-father William MATHIESON b. m. (2) c. 18712 d.
Mother Sarah Ann WILSON3 b.c. 1835 m. (1) bef. 1859 (2) c. 1871 d. 18844
Inmate Isabella COULTER b.c. 18555 m. 1876 (see below) d. 19246
Sister Mary Jane COULTER b. 18597 m. d.
Brother Alexander COULTER b. 18618 m. bef. 1908 Elizabeth (unknown) d. 19089
Brother James COULTER b. 186610 m. d. 194511
Sister Sarah Ann COULTER b. 186812 m. 188513 John BRAMWELL d.
Husband John MEADER b.c. 1847 m. 187614 d. 192815
Son Oliver MEADER b. 188116 m. 190917 Ethel M. CLARKE d. 194018

Isabella appeared in court on 22 July 1870.19 She was charged under the Industrial Schools Act20 with being in the habit of wandering with prostitutes and associating with bad characters.21 The warrant for her arrest had been taken out by her mother.22 Isabella was admitted to Newcastle five days later on 27 July. She was identified in the Entrance Book as a Protestant.23 The pages from the Entrance Book for this period have not survived so no family, religious or educational background or apprenticeship details can be confirmed from this source. In August 1870, shortly after her arrival in Newcastle, Isabella and Mary Ann O’HARE were placed in solitary confinement after they had been found in bed together by CLARKE and Mrs ELLIOTT. This situation concerned CLARKE but the Colonial Secretary felt that there was nothing further needing to be done in regard to the incident.24 Isabella transferred with the school to Biloela in May 1871 and a letter from her mother written on 15 September 1871, well after the expiry of her compulsory twelve month stay, requested that Isabella be returned to her.

Mrs COULTER, who for reasons connected with the moral well-being of her daughter about a twelvemonth or thereabout had her incarcerated in the Industrial School then at Newcastle.

Sarah's request was 'considered inadvisable' and was therefore refused. The new superintendent, LUCAS, reported that he was endeavouring to get Isabella an apprenticeship 'in the interior'.25 It was documented that Isabella rebelled whilst she was on Biloela as, in his report on 20 November 1871, LUCAS recorded that she was one of seven girls26 who were

confined in No. 3 Dormitory for the remainder of the day for holding conversation with some men in a boat cruising off the island.27

On 12 December 1871, LUCAS applied to the Colonial Secretary to apprentice Isabella. Notations on the letter indicated that some form of contact had been made with Isabella's father, James, as he was in favour of Isabella being apprenticed and the letter also contained a notation concerning Isabella's mother, Sarah, stating:

The Mother of this girl had applied for her release with the view of her being married.28

Isabella was apprenticed from the school on 27 December 1871,29 to Archibald BELL,30 Esq., of Scone, for two years at the rate of two shillings a week for the first year and three shillings a week for the second year.31 It is unconfirmed whether her apprenticeship was completed.

Isabella was described as the eldest daughter of James COULTER of Crown Street, Woolloomooloo, when she married John, the second son of John MEADER, at the Sydney Registry Office in Elizabeth Street on 13 June 1876.32 The record showed that James was a quarryman of Pyrmont and the son of John and Margaret MEADER. Isabella was a spinster from Goulburn Street, Sydney. Her parents were confirmed on the registration although her mother's maiden name was not recorded. At the time of her death it was recorded that Isabella had been the mother to three children, two sons and a daughter, but none of them were living by 1924. It is unknown whether her known son, Oliver, was one of these children as, by the time she died, she and her son had been separated for decades and it is unknown whether they were ever reunited.33 It is thought that none of Isabella's children survived long after their birth as none were registered.34 Descendants have acknowledged that compulsory registrations of births, marriages and deaths were often overlooked or ignored withing the extended COULTER family.35 It must also be considered that this fact on her death registration may not be accurate but the information on the record can only have been provided by her. The couple almost certainly informally adopted one son, Oliver who, at the age of about eleven,36 was admitted to the Sobraon on 20 April 1896. Oliver's stated age on his Sobraon admission record was fifteen. Oliver stated:

My parents are both dead. I don't know their names. I was handed to my step-father and mother when I was a baby and I took their name. … I think I am fifteen.37

Oliver's admission statement was inaccurate in many ways so it cannot be completely trusted. It is very likely that he was illegally arrested under the Industrial Schools Act as eighteen months before his admission he had been involved in a altercation where he was also recorded as 15.38 Oliver's parents are unidentified in the Sobraon record but neither of them were dead, although the whereabouts of his mother at this time may have been unclear. Oliver may have been trying to prevent any involvement, particularly involvement by his father, in any court case or potential return to him. It is also uncertain whether he was adopted although, as no birth registration for him has been identified, this is believed likely. Family stories recall that Oliver excaped from the Sobraon and at the age of 15 went to South Africa to enlist in the Boer War (1899 - 1902). An enlistment who may be Oliver was No. 1936 Trooper O. MEADER, whose time in the Johannesburg Mounted Rifles unit had expired on 14 April 1902.39 Oliver returned to NSW and when he married in 1909 both Isabella and John were recorded on the registration as his parents.40 If an adoption did occur, Oliver's 1896 statement suggested an adoption by about 1883 at the latest.

It is uncertain whether Oliver was the name given to him by his natural or his adoptive parents but it is believed to have been his birth name. Only two boys named Oliver were born on the day Oliver stated was is birthdate.41 They were Oliver ALDOUS, the illegitmate son of Selina ALDOUS [?],42 whose birth had been registered in Shoalhaven and Oliver W. DUNK,43 the son of David and Catherine DUNK whose birth had been registered at Paddington. Because Oliver stated that he had been born in Ryde,44 without viewing these registrations, it cannot be ascertained whether either is appropriate.

In 187845 John and Isabella moved to 245 King Street, Newtown, where he opened a fish and oyster restaurant called the Oyster Saloon.46 John began selling his goods in 1885 and took a second job as a street-cleansing night contractor for Newtown Council because he needed money. Family recollections suggest that Isabella often spent money.47 In the 1880s Isabella's brother, James, also opened a fish restaurant in King Street, Newtown, only a few blocks from Johns establishment. There was rivalry as they were the only two fish restaurants in the street.48 John was attempting to sell this Newtown business in December 188849 and again in July 1890.50

Isabella and John had separated by about 1887 and never reconciled. Their son, Oliver, remained with his father51 until his admission to the Sobraon and his trip to South Africa. Isabella was the wife referred to by John MEADER of Randwick in his advertisment in the Sydney Morning Herald on 30 August 1887. He announced that he refuse to pay her debts and while the ad did not name her, descendants confirmed the estrangement.52 John made his mark on the warning.53 She maintained a connection to her mother, brothers and sisters and their children and after leaving her marriage she is thought to have lived with her brother, James. In February 1898, as Bella MEADER, Isabella was involved in an assault. She denied the charge but was found guilty. She must have paid the fine as she does not appear an any gaol record during the month. Isabella was almost certainly living at 11 Foveaux Street, when she was the victim of a robbery on 7 December 1903. She had stolen:

Gold bangle, cable pattern, with padlock attached; gold bangle, with small flowers on it, small chain attached; gold brooch, with pearl at each end, rubies and diamonds in centre.54

Isabella's first admission to the Newington Asylum occurred on 6 October 1908, when she was 53.55 In February 1911 after her second release from Newington and firstly while living at the Salvation Army Refuge in Harbour Street, Sydney, Isabella, or someone on her behalf, took out a warrant for John's arrest for wife desertion.

A warrant has been issued by the Central Police Bench for the arrest of John Meader, charged with wife desertion. He is about 60 years of age, 5 feet 6 or 7 inches high, medium build, fresh complexion, dark hair turning grey, dark-red moustache.56

Then in June, just after her third release from Newington and while living at 48 Greek Street, Glebe, another warrant was ordered.

A warrant has been issued by the Glebe Bench for the arrest of John Meader, charged with wife desertion. He is 60 years of age, 5 feet 6 inches high, medium build, reddish complexion, dark hair, sandy moustache only; usually dressed in dark clothes and black hard hat; a tip-carter.57

No evidence has been found that police ever located John for either of these warrants as by 1904 he had left Sydney to work as a live-in caretaker for his nephew, James MEADER, at the stone quarries at Richmond Road, Blacktown.58 From her first admission in 1908 until the end of her life, Isabella was regularly in and out of the asylum, sometimes being discharged and sometimes absconding. She was admitted 15 times and it is unknown how she supported herself when she was not in the asylum.59 Isabella died of chronic arterio sclerosis and heart failure in the Newington Asylum, Sydney, on 10 August 1924. Isabella was buried in the Rookwood Cemetery on 18 December 1924, in an unmarked grave.60 It is believed that neither James or Oliver knew of her death. No Funeral Notice has been located for her and it is likely that none exists as a considerable amount of time had passed before she was buried as nobody claimed her body. This extended period of time between her death and burial at this time is very hard to comprehend. Even though Isabella's husband, John MEADER had erected an elaborate headstone for Isabella's mother, Sarah, none was erected for Isabella.

John died four years after Isabella on 22 June 1928, at the age of eight-one at Blacktown.61 He and Oliver had reconciled as Oliver and his family inserted a Funeral Notice for him.62


Because Isabella's father, James, was named in the letters in the CSIL,63 there is no doubt that Isabella and her family had arrived on the Annie Wilson in 1859. This indent recorded the four-year-old Isabella, her parents, James and Sarah Ann, and her baby sister, Mary Jane. The family had originated in Tyrone, Ireland, but was Presbyterian. Three more children were born to James and Sarah between 1861 and 1868. These children further confirmed Isabella's family as letters pertaining to her held in the CSIL stated that:

Mrs COULTER is a sober and industrious person. She has three other children, the eldest about eight years of age.64

James’ parents were recorded on the Annie Wilson indent as George and Isabella. At the time of his arrival he already had two brothers, William and Alexander, already living in Sydney. John COULTER, his brother was also aboard the Annie Wilson as was his married sister, Jane WOODS, with her husband, William, and young children, Isabella and James. Tragically both these little cousins died on the voyage so their death and burial must have been very traumatic for the four-year-old Isabella COULTER. On 23 November 1863, the rest of the COULTER family arrived aboard the George Vanner. They were Isabella's grandparents, George and Isabella COULTER, with their children Margaret, Isabella, Archibald, Robert and George. It is believed that further family members arrived in Queensland aboard the William Miles.

The family initially lived at 252-254 Castlereagh Street, Sydney, near Market Street. The MEADER family were neighbours. James and his family fell on hard times in Sydney and by September 1866 he was declared insolvent. In 1867 they moved to 19 Ann Street, off Crown Street and in 1871 the moved to 5 Junction Street. It may be that this frequent moving was an indication that they were unable to pay rent.65 By this time Isabella had been admitted to Newcastle. The couple separated at some stage between these date but the birth of further children suggests that this was not a permanent arrangement and from March 1867, James contributed to Sarah's maintenance.66 An exact separation date is unclear as Constable TAYLOR in 1871 indicated that they had separated in about 1869.67 A court appearance in March 1869 confirmed that Sarah was James' wife.68 In April 1870, James was ordered to pay fifteen shillings weekly for maintenance to Sarah Ann.69 Because each maintenance order was for twelve months, and each was made in March they must refer to the same couple and give a general indication of when the separation occurred. James was imprisoned in Darlinghurst on 21 April 187170 for deserting Sarah and for disobeying an order to pay her maintenance.71 In August 1871, Sarah Ann took James to court charging him with planning to leave the colony in order to evade a court order for maintenance.72 By 29 September 1871, John TAYLOR from No. 2 Metropolitan Police Station, in his letter to the Colonial Secretary, reported that James was living with another woman.73 This woman was not named or identified in any way. While no verification has been found for James appearing for maintenance from this date onwards, he was identified as a resident of Crown Street when Isabella married in 1876 and his address was recorded in Sand's Directory as 88 Crown Street in 1873. James may be the man who was living in William Street, Redfern, in 1877 but there are no further records in Sand's Directory for a man of this name between 1877 and 1883 so it is believed that James had left Sydney in around 1877.

The Annie Wilson indent identified that Sarah's parents were Andrew and Sarah. The surname of her parents is unclear but was confirmed as WILSON on some registrations and by Isabella's descendants.74 After her abandonment by James, she earned an honest living75 until commencing a relationship with William MATHIESON, MATTERSON or MATTIESON. It is uncertain when this relationship began but Sarah's death registration in 1884 suggested that they had married in 1881. A legal separation from James would have been costly and impossible for some time if James had disappeared so it is believed that the couple had never married. While it is possible that the minister did not register the marriage, this is considered unlikely. Sarah died on 14 August 1884,76 at her residence in Ridge Road, North Sydney. The casue of death was pneumonia and chronic alcoholism. Funeral Notices from William, her sons, James and Alexander, and John MEADER verified her death. Her death registration recorded that her parents were James and Sarah. This differs from her arrival details but this variation is not considered unusual. Sarah was buried at St. Thomas's Cemetery.77 Isabella's husband, John MEADER, erected an elaborate headstone for Sarah that read:

In Loving Memory of
Sarah Mathieson
Who died 14th August 1884
Aged 44 years.
Day after day I saw her fade, and gently pass away and often in my heart I prayed that she might longer stay, but my dear wife was forced to go and leave in sorrow one below.

In 1887,78 Isabella, as Isabella MEADE, and in 1889, as Bella MEADER, inserted In Memoriam notices remembering her mother.79

Note: References appear in the newspapers from about 1870 for an Isabella or Bella COULTER who was a criminal. This woman was also a Protestant, born in about 1854 and had arrived with her family. She is likely to have arrived in Moreton Bay at the age of one in 1855 aboard the //William Miles. Her parents were William and Sarah COULTER who were both born in Ireland. Isabella, however, was recorded as being born in Paisley. This is almost certainly Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland and this place of birth is supported by statements recorded in gaol records. William, her father, was likely to have died in Sydney where his parents were recorded as George and Isabella. It is thought that these two Isabellas were cousins. The Isabella COULTER who committed these criminal acts and appeared before the courts almost without any doubt married Samson or Sampson HAYES, a shoemaker, on 7 December 1871, in Sydney. This date negates her being the industrial school girl as on this date the Isabella admitted to Newcastle was on Biloela waiting to be apprenticed. By mid-1872, Sampson HAYES had 'turned her out at 2 o’clock in the morning.' She won an order for maintenance but began, or was forced by circumstance into, a life of crime by assuming the aliases HAYES, COULTER and FINN. This Isabella may have died as Isabella HAYES on 7 March 1910, at the age of 51. She had sons named William and Jack. Descriptions and a photograph of Isabella HAYES née COULTER aka FINN appear in the NSW Police Gazette and the NSW gaol records.//

Updated January 2017

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